By chance I was in Coimbra at the time of the 2013 Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons) celebration. This is an 8 day event each May that celebrates the end of school for graduating students. The festivities include a parade with each degrees graduates having their own float (and a lot of beer), several nights of concerts/parties that last until 7 am, sports activities and many other events and traditions.
One tradition is the Serenata Monumental Coimbra, which happened a couple of days before I arrived in Coimbra. I would have had a great seat for the show too; my hostel windows overlooked the square that hosts the concert each year. It’s a performance of Coimbra fado music which is distinct from other forms of fado because it has historically been performed only by male students and former students of the University of Coimbra. Traditionally Coimbra fado was a serenade performed by the male student outside the window of a female student he was sweet on. If she felt the same way toward him, she turned the light on and off three times. The roots of this music are so deep in the city it’s widely considered the music of Coimbra itself.
The singers and musicians all wear the traditional academic outfit (or at least part of it; the cape). The concert I saw had all three men wearing an all black suit, black shirt and black cape. The instruments played along the singer in Coimbra Fado are the 12 string Guitarra de Coimbra (Coimbra fado guitar designed by the father of Coimbra fado, Artur Paredes) and a classical 6 string acoustic guitar.
You can generally find Coimbra fado being played each evening in bars, city squares or at the Fado ao Centro where I saw a performance. Fado ao Centro is a cultural center designed to promote Coimbra fado. Check out the Unmapped Travels Facebook page to view a short video I took at the concert.
A performance can either be just three men or up to a couple dozen as seen in this video of the Serenata Monumental Coimbra 2013 that happened a few days before I arrived.
Though at the concert I saw I didn’t know what the words meant they were singing I did know, thanks to an English explanation before each song, what the songs were about. It was a very entertaining event and well worth the surprisingly cheap ticket price.